My understanding of the Buddha's teachings at this stage

May 27, 2006
Itsuro SOGA

I am studying what the Buddha taught. The following is my hypothesis. It would be much appreciated if you could glance over it and send your comment. That@would help me notice points I have overlooked on this issue and develop my hypothesis more deeply.
Human beings are suffering from diseases, wars, exploitation and so on. Even in everyday life, people are suffering. They often complain, envy and hate each other. All these sufferings are called dukkha in Pali, an old Indian language.

People are eager to get quick pleasure and consequently fall into deep dukkha after all. Being captive to attachment they rarely recognize their dukkha. It is very close to addiction.
In some areas on the earth some groups hate and torment each other. They are blind to their own dukkha, being athirst for the pleasure of revenge on their enemy. It could be said that this is addiction to revenge.

Most of dukkha is given rise to by human beings. It is nothing else but ourselves who give rise to dukkha. Therefore the rise of dukkha can be stopped if we change ourselves.

How should we change ourselves?

Before answering this question it would be better to study how we give rise to dukkha.

Our attachment causes dukkha. Our attachment is our reactions to protect or expand ourselves, to hold things that seem to profit us and to destroy or avoid things that seem to damage us.
Why do we react in such a way? The reason is that we regard both ourselves and things as existing with their own value (whether it is positive or negative).
Don't we exist? No. Everything is changing in every moment. Everything arises, changes and perishes. We are arising, changing and perishing every moment. This is the teaching of impermanence (anicca in Pali).

The Buddha also taught anatta, which tells that nothing can be our substance. That means we do not have any substance, such as souls. Everything is arising, being changed and perishing by causation. And that causes other occurrences. There is nothing that exists by itself. Everything is phenomenon caused by other phenomena in every moment. It is the same with us.

Phenomena occur around us, and we react to them. In other words they cause our reactions.
But we have to be careful here. We are not any existing substance. There is nothing that reacts. There are just reactions. We are not any existing substance but reactions. We are reactions caused by causation in every moment.
This is the teaching of paticcasamuppada.
As you notice, anicca, anatta and paticcasamuppada are three aspects of one issue.

But we regard ourselves as something substantial with own values. It is quite natural for us to do so, because through billions years of evolution animals have been reacting in that way to survive. To regard phenomena as substances benefits us very much in one sense. But it is a rough and careless way of looking at phenomena. It makes us reactions of attachment to mistake phenomena for existences. We misunderstand ourselves to be something substantial and consequently we react to protect and expand ourselves that are actually phenomena occurring in every moment. This is the reason we are giving rise to dukkha.

Therefore if we really want to stop giving rise to dukkha, we have to extinguish our attachment. In order to do so, we have to realize that we are phenomena that are arising, changing and perishing every moment. When we achieve it completely, our automatic reactions to protect and to expand ourselves, that are attachment, will not occur anymore.

Now we have come upon another issue.
How can we realize it? Through very careful and close observation of ourselves with concentration.
It is almost impossible to realize this only through theoretical studies. It is similar to the fact that we cannot realize that we ourselves are dying every moment although we know all people die. After we learn the theory of the Buddha's teachings, we have to practice them accordingly.
The Buddhist tradition has been handing down the Eight Noble Paths as guidance of for this practice. Or it can be briefly put in Three Types of Learning.

In the first of the three we have to follow the admonitions set by the Buddha in order to keep ourselves calm and silent. (sila in Pali)
If we, the phenomena, are rampaging, it is very difficult to observe ourselves.
And if we try to obey the admonitions, we have to be careful about how we are in every moment. This is a good practice for observation.

After sila we have to concentrate on observation of ourselves. (samadhi in Pali)

Usually the first object of the observation is our breathing. And we have to make it a habit to observe how we are happening, not only during meditation but also throughout our everyday life.

When our observation becomes concentrated enough, we will be able to observe every occurrence of ourselves clear and close. Then we will realize that we are not existences but phenomena. This enlightened wisdom is called panna in Pali. This is the final step of the Three Types of Learning.

When we succeed in realizing that we are phenomena happening every moment according to causes around us, we will have our eyes opened to the fact that we have been very foolish to mistake phenomena for existences with everlasting value and that we have been fighting each other to make ourselves firm existences in vain. Thus the rise of dukkha will be extinguished.

Do you think my idea is ridiculous? Or you may say it is negative. I agree it sounds negative for the mentality of attachment.
But I believe that realization of anicca, anatta and paticcasamuppada brings not only dukkha's extinction but also relaxation, tranquility and sympathy to all living beings that are struggling to live at the mercy of attachment including persons who hate us.

I would like to achieve this realization for myself. At the same time I would like to spread the teachings of the Buddha to reduce dukkha in the world even if only slightly.

Thank you for reading this. Let me have your comments, please.

Please let me know if you do not wish your comments to appear on this site.

May 27, 2006
Itsuro SOGA